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Folding Bicycle and Inflatable Boat: the Ultimate Vagabond Set Up?

For me, freedom is a bicycle. Adventure begins at a front wheel and ends at a rear one with a set of peddles, a seat, and a set of handlebars in between. From the time I was a young boy exploration and bicycles were always inseparable. Now that I’m all grown up, I have to say [...]

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For me, freedom is a bicycle. Adventure begins at a front wheel and ends at a rear one with a set of peddles, a seat, and a set of handlebars in between. From the time I was a young boy exploration and bicycles were always inseparable. Now that I’m all grown up, I have to say that I feel no different. As soon as I kick down on a pedal, hear a sprocket turn a chain which ticks through a set of gears and spin the wheels, my eyes brighten, my body relaxes, and the world becomes as new and as fresh to me as it was when I was 12 years old getting in trouble around the farm country of Upstate New York.

vagabond machines

Feeling the lactic acid build up in your thighs as you pedal through a landscape that is ever-new and always changing with the knowledge that you can go in any direction you please at your own pace is modern exploration in its finest rendition. Add in the need to make rapid decisions, the occasional feeling of danger, the speed, and the need to be continuously alert makes bicycle travel an adventure by definition.

But the natural highways of the world are called rivers. By choosing to ride a bicycle is to commit to remaining on the highways of man. I want to travel on both as I move through this world. I have an idea:

I’m going to try something new here in China. I’m going to test traveling on a folding bicycle and an inflatable boat. When on the bike, the boat will be deflated and carried on the gear rack; when on the boat, the bicycle will be folded up and stored in the cockpit with me. I want to be able to transfer from road to waterway/ waterway to road seamlessly, and this is actually a way to do it.

Waterways of China

Look at all that blue

To travel by boat is to get on the highways of nature. It is to get away from the cars, the exhaust fumes, and the city. The bulk of the world’s population has access to roadways, but how many people freely access waterways? Very few. I  look at a map of China and I see huge lakes, rivers, and canals everywhere. My excitement rises as I look a little closer and see islands strewn through those lakes and rivers cutting through what appears to be areas removed from the rest of the country. The inflatable boat will allow me to access the watery parts of the world: lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, canals will quickly shift from being off-limits to fully accessible. What’s out there? I will now be able to find out.

By using a bicycle I can position myself in optimal positions to launch water explorations.  The great thing here is that if I ever feel that I’m in an arduous stretch of water travel all I would need to do is row over to the nearest shore, hop out, deflate my boat, unfold my bicycle, and make for the nearest road. Versatility of options is key to vagabond travel, and the folding bicycle/ inflatable boat combo will truly be clutch in my mission to move through the world on my own volition and under my own power. Access is what travel is about. With this setup I can access the planet’s back roads and waterways.

What traveler could ask for anything more?

There is far too much of the world out there to rely on public transport and tourism to discover. I want to access the vast stretches of this planet that lie between “places,” I want to get to those no-man’s lands in between destinations. I am the weirdo hanging out in the places where 99% of travelers fly right by in buses, trains, cars, and planes. It is my impression that accessing these no-name locales is the surest path to becoming the wealthy 1% of travelers. I know that highways are modern rivers and rivers are ancient highways. To really get a taste of this planet I have to travel them both.

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Filed under: Bicycle Travel, Boat Travel, Travel Strategy

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Jack August 24, 2012, 1:45 am

    This sounds amazing and unique, Wade. I’d really love to see a lot more of how you do it and maybe even a video or two as well. This is something wouldn’t even be limited to China, you could do this virtually anywhere in the world.

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    • Wade Shepard August 24, 2012, 3:40 am

      For sure, Jack. Definitely! This could truly be a global rig. I’ve spent a long time planning river trips and one of the major road blocks has always been dam and what to do when coming head on with rapids, cascades, waterfalls, and other obstacles. Picking a boat up and carrying it never really sat well with me — especially since the distances I would want to traverse would sometimes be many miles. I have the equipment now, and I’m just starting to try it out. The boat is more difficult to maneuver than I figured it would be, but I think it’s something that will just take some practice to master. I’m confident that it will work. More on this soon.

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      • tristanbul June 27, 2013, 12:04 pm

        Hey Wade, any update on the boat experiment? I’m living in Warsaw now and there’s a nice stretch of river from here to the Baltic Sea that’s about 500 or 600 km. I’m contemplating the trip but I haven’t heard any firsthand accounts discussing whether inflatables really are useful for long-haul trips.

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        • VagabondJourney June 27, 2013, 8:44 pm

          Yes, it would work fine. I’ve been taking mine around the canals and small rivers around Jiangsu province. I would recommend getting a small inflatable kayak though — the smaller the better. There is just something about rowing backwards that I still haven’t gotten used to. Haven’t done any long trips precisely for that reason.

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          • tristanbul June 28, 2013, 10:01 am

            That’s a very good point, I can’t stand rowboats, but canoes/kayaks are fantastic. I might pick one up, I can get them for about $130 here — the only concern is adding 30 lbs to my travel gear.

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            • VagabondJourney June 28, 2013, 10:05 am

              That’s a key point: these boats are not light, and they are a little bulky to. I would not recommend one as a part of a standard travel rack. Rather, I think they’re best for either doing dedicated boating “expeditions” or when you have a longer term base of operations. Where you are though, I would highly recommend stashing most of your travel gear somewhere and taking a boat down that river. That journey alone would be more than worth the cost of the boat.

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              • tristanbul June 28, 2013, 10:19 am

                My friend owns the house I live in here in Warsaw, so stashing stuff isn’t a problem, it’s mostly a question of scheduling. (I have to churn out a thesis, and in mid-September I have to hop out of the Schengen area to move from an expired student visa to a tourist visa). For anything over a month, it might be getting kind of cold here. Any tips on interesting mellow river basins within cheap-flight distance from Europe?

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                • VagabondJourney June 28, 2013, 10:23 am

                  Check out the Balkans. Don’t know of any raftable rivers off hand, but there should be some.

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  • david August 24, 2012, 2:13 am

    O man! :DDDD !!!

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  • alf August 24, 2012, 3:43 am

    Sounds great. I will be following this adventure. I have fantasized about doing this, not only on rivers, but along sea coast.

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell August 24, 2012, 6:07 am

    Great travel innovation Wade. Sounds like an excellent adventure ahead. Feel free to paddle + pedal your way down to Hangzhou – here: I have a couch and cold beer awaiting.

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    • Wade Shepard August 24, 2012, 6:40 am

      Excellent. The original plan was to paddle down the Grand Canal. But, man, that’s going to be a challenge 🙂 Hopefully I’ll make it.

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  • Félix August 30, 2012, 1:29 pm

    A friend of mine and I want to go downstream all the way to Shanghai using the 长江 river… lots of traffic though, on this “natural highway”! We’ll see if we can pull it off, or if we chicken out beforehand!

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    • Wade Shepard August 30, 2012, 9:58 pm

      What kind of boats are you using? I’ll totally go with you. May be a better idea to find a canal to take, the Chang Jiang gets pretty busy (but that’ll add another dimension of craziness to the trip, I suppose haha). My original plan was to go to Hangzhou on the Grand Canal to meet up with MRP. I’ll try it, but I don’t know how far I’ll get haha. Wanna come?

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      • Félix September 2, 2012, 12:44 am

        Hmmmmm….. I’ll file it in the “I will most definitely consider it, good sir” and let you know very shortly.

        I just want to wait a few days or so before I start making travel plans again… question of principle, I just came back from a two-month journey, and hadn’t even started work yet, hahaha

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        • Wade Shepard September 2, 2012, 8:32 pm

          Right on, whenever you get the chance I’m ready.

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